Social media, that feral animal, can be vicious, unpredictable, and ravenous, yet it can pull you in. It may be wild and seemingly untamed, but it knows your appetites. I've had a love/hate relationship with this beast for years now, first responding to its siren call for citizen journalists. For once, we scientists had an open forum to the public to share our passion for discovery and to explain the value of what we do.
Effective science communication is -- still -- my goal, and I've studied how others have been successful. I ravenously read traditional news media publications, such as The New York Times' Science Times page, and blogs of all kinds, ranging from those run by venerable institutions such as National Geographic and Scientific American to those operated by independent bloggers, with the most popular posts often published under pseudonyms. I learned that popular bloggers often use current events as a hook to draw in the reader, then discuss the science behind it. This is the part I came to love as an aspiring science communicator, because it makes sense and can be an effective approach to broadening your readership, sometimes.
But then there's the part I've always disliked, even hated, because it appeals to (some say) our lowest common denominator. Ideologues spewing their entrenched positions, whether based on fact or not. Appealing to prurient interests, especially if connected with public obsession with celebrity, is a sure thing. Using celebrities as a hook can be done intelligently. (One of my favorite examples is Celebrity Diagnosis: Teachable Moments in Medicine.) And the "F" bomb, with its explosive power. So easy to use, with four little letters! And it really works, especially in science communication.
Consider this unscientific sampling of Facebook pages devoted to science and science communicators. With more than 13 million "likes," I F---ing Love Science is the big winner. Sorry, HuffPost Science, but you're at less than 1 percent of this measure (with 45,540 "likes"). The Facebook page for the largest scientific society in the world, AAAS, is at 9 percent. Unbelievable! I know, considering Facebook is just a tiny piece of the social media beast. And I F---king Love Science would probably be very popular even without the "F" bomb. Or would it? Prove me wrong, please.
Likes (Percentage): Name
13,187,193 (100 percent): I F---ing Love Science
5,104,561 (39 percent): Science (TV Genre)
2,788,433 (21 percent): Bill Nye The Science Guy
2,700,648 (20 percent): Science Channel (TV Network)
1,429,770 (11 percent): Science News Magazine
1,270,931 (10 percent): Science News
1,238,506 (9 percent): Science (AAAS)
1,021,525 (8 percent): Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science
692,000 (5 percent): Science Is Awesome
664,759 (5 percent): Wired Science
393,904 (3 percent): The New York Times Science
382,899 (3 percent): Neil deGrasse Tyson
301,000 (2 percent): Jane Goodall
98,263 (1 percent): ScienceBlogs
94,559 (1 percent): National Science Foundation
78,541 (1 percent): Brian Greene
59,005 (0 percent): HuffPost Science
4,554 (0 percent): I Love Teaching Science